Buried Treasures: Unearthing Time Capsules - Page 3

Mysterious time capsules—returning from deep sleep to evoke the 'now' for future generations

Like many Eichler owners of a purist bent, Paul Galli regards his Sunnyvale home as a time capsule in itself. His Eichler is almost entirely original. The first thing Galli would put into his time capsule, he says, would be photos, plans, and lists of material to "show people exactly how to outfit an Eichler." He would include photos of an Eichler that has been preserved and, for contrast, one that has been wrecked by poor remodeling. "And I'd put in photos by Ernie Braun, the classics," he says of the photographer whose images did so much to popularize Eichler homes. "They really show not only what the architecture looks like, but what it feels like."

Pat Sandlin, the homeowners' association president at River City Commons, a Streng Bros. neighborhood in Sacramento, would include in her time capsule a photo of her beloved atrium, complete with its greenery and carp pond. But really, she'd put her entire neighborhood in a time capsule, if that's what it took to preserve it. "People want to get rid of old neighborhoods," she says, "and move into something new."

What shape is your time capsule in?

Fifty years from today, what will surprise people about our lives? Shock them? Cause them to laugh? Educate them? How should you put together your time capsule? The choice is completely your own—but consider:

  • The capsule and contents should not deteriorate. This is about time travel, after all. Several companies sell indestructible, archival-grade time capsules. Some companies suggest that the oxygen in the capsule be replaced with an inert gas. Or you could try a refrigerator.
  • Items should be personal.
  • They should transcend time.
  • They should amuse, puzzle, enlighten, and provoke. And they should not be 'typical.' Or should they? Think: What do we take for granted today that will startle people tomorrow?
  • If you want to celebrate your home or neighborhood and help preserve them, include documents—including visual and audio—illustrating their uniqueness, history, and importance.
  • Have you been a good steward of your house? Have you improved or remodeled it? Document it. Have you enjoyed living in your house? Prove it. And remember: Your home itself can be your time capsule.

Baxter Culver, an original owner of a pristine house in Evergreen Commons, a modern neighborhood in Sacramento developed by the Streng Bros., also sees time capsules as a repository for preservationists of the future. A useful neighborhood time capsule would show photos of the area as it was being developed, "so someone could take that and say, 'Oh, that's what it was like when it was new.'" He would include any "governing documents," such as design guidelines.

If Evergreen Commons wants to bury such a capsule, Culver would be the guy to go to. He and his wife Linda have preserved photos of their home when the slab was just being poured, early photos of the neighborhood, and their original green-inked contract with the Strengs.

John Badenhop, who grew up in the Eichler neighborhood of Charleston Meadows in Palo Alto, would make old photos the centerpiece of his community time capsule. At a neighborhood reunion a few years back, he says, "One of the absolute joys of it were the pictures the people brought, pictures that showed the way our neighborhood developed from the ground up, right from the countryside it was before."

But Badenhop might include more than glossies. Digital media make it possible to include far more in a modern time capsule than our ancestors could ever squeeze in. "Today, think of how much information could be put in a time capsule," he says. "The concept is amazing."

A time capsule should preserve more than a home or a neighborhood's early history, says Jerry Escobar, who lives in an Eichler in San Jose. It should also capture life as it is lived. He recently returned home to find some neighbors and their children passing time outside. "Next thing," he says, "we're all in the driveway having an impromptu party." What better content than a photo of that for his time capsule? "This is a group of our friends," he says. "This is what life is like in 2007." He'd also do a few top-fives: "Favorite things we like to do, our favorite gadgets, favorite TV shows. I'd throw an ipod in right now. A laptop would be nice, but it's too expensive." He'd put in a photo of a laptop instead. "If you're into beer, or cocktails, put in your favorite beer," he says. "Put in a martini glass. Throw in your favorite bottle of wine."